Geert Wilders, a populist anti-Islam Dutch parliamentary leader, was convicted of hate speech on Friday for derogatory comments he made at a rally in 2014. Wilders is the founder and leader of the Dutch Freedom Party which runs on a nationalistic message. Wilders has called the Netherlands “sick” because of immigration and Wilders’ perceived infringement on his free speech.
The case against Wilders stems from comments the parliamentary leader made to a crowd at The Hague in 2014. During a rally, Wilders asked a crowd of supporters if they wanted fewer or more Moroccans in the country, addressing the more than 400,000 Moroccan citizens in the Netherlands. When Wilders’ supporters chanted back that they wanted, “Fewer! Fewer!” Moroccans, the Freedom Party leader responded, “We’re going to organize that.”
Wilders was convicted of discrimination on Friday but will face no jail time. According to USA Today, the presiding judge in Wilders’ case stated that there would be no jail time because conviction was punishment enough for a democratically elected official three months before an impending March election.
Although the judge may believe conviction is enough of a punishment for Wilders, polls show that the Freedom Party actually has a lead in the Dutch parliament that could sway the house seats in the March election. Al Jazeera reports that Wilders’ party currently has 34 seats in the lower house of Dutch parliament while Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals only have 10 seats out of 150.
Wilders’ hate speech conviction isn’t the first time he has been accused of damaging rhetoric. A 2011 case ended in acquittal after Wilders compared Islam to Nazism and demanded a ban of the Quran in the Netherlands. After the 2011 acquittal, many people inside and outside of the Netherlands point to the case as strengthening Wilders’ reputation as a “defender of freedom” and increased his sway among the populist population.
After the conviction, Wilders said that the judgment was “madness” and that the case against him was politically motivated. The Freedom Party leader told De Telegraaf that, “Every verdict, acquittal, or conviction will de facto change nothing. I will continue to speak the truth regardless, including about the Moroccan problem, and no judge, politician or ‘terrorist’ will stop me.”
Wilders also took to Twitter to comment on his recent hate speech conviction. The parliamentary leader posted a video on the social media site, stating, “The Netherlands has become a sick country. I am not a racist and neither are my voters,” he said in the video.
“This sentence proves that you judges are completely out of touch. Support for the Party for Freedom is stronger than ever and keeps growing every day. The Dutch want their country back.”
The Freedom Party leader has continued to denounce his conviction since Friday. Wilders even accused the three judges in his case of being “haters” against him, the far-right, and the Freedom Party. “Three PVV-hating judges declare Moroccans a race and convict me and half of the Netherlands. Insane,” Wilders also wrote on Twitter.
Wilders vehemently supported United States president-elect Donald Trump during Trump’s 2016 campaign and mirrors Trump’s populist, anti-Islam, anti-immigrant message. Coincidentally, Wilders also shares Trump’s flare for social media and antagonistic attacks against his critics.
The far-right has been perceptively sweeping the United States and parts of Europe in the last couple years, including Wilder, Trump, and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. All of these leaders have called for restrictions of Islam-practicing citizens and Le Pen has even suggested barring schooling to non-native children in France.
Although Wilder was convicted of hate speech, it’s unlikely that it will affect his party’s stance in the Netherlands March election. The conviction may even be a boon to Wilders’ message as he frames himself as a martyr for the far-right.
[Featured Image by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images]